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Riding the Rapids with River Rats


Angela Pearse discovers the joys of rafting a rushing river in Kaituna...


Dave tugs on the straps of my yellow lifejacket once more for good measure.  I can breathe, but barely.  “Yeah all this rain means the river’s running higher than normal, should be a good ride,” he says nonchalantly.

‘Higher than normal’ is an understatement.  After a steady week of torrential rain, the Kaituna River has become a raging torrent flowing out of Lake Rotoiti.  And I’m about to go rafting down it.  Still, I reason, if you’re going to do something adventurous it’s best to do it at natures extreme.  Right? Besides the guides at River Rats are all seasoned professionals.  Dave gives us a thorough run down on what to do in the raft, and also what to do in the event of falling out of the raft.  It’s clear he knows what he’s talking about, I’m just a bit concerned about the content.

“Don’t put get your foot stuck between the rocks at the bottom of the river, that would be very bad”; “Don’t wind the safety rope around your neck if we throw it to you”; “If you fall out try to swim to the raft before we go over the waterfall.  If you do go over make sure you smile for the camera”.

Once we are in the raft and paddling away, the beauty of our surroundings allays any fears.  Dripping, wet forest frames the glassy green swirls of the river and I feel exhilarated as we bob over our first lot of rapids named White Fangs of Death, “or alternatively,” quips Dave “Happy Bunnies”. Next we careen down two waterfalls in quick succession.  They are small, just 1 metre high.  Up ahead a 7 metre beast, the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world, awaits.

“Remember”, says Dave as we perch precariously at the top, “If you fall out of the raft curl up into a ball and you’ll pop right back up the surface”.  He makes it sound so easy. Apprehension is making it difficult to breathe, or perhaps that’s just my lifejacket?

“Front paddle!  Get down!” yells Dave.  Before I have time to think we float to the lip of the waterfall and nose over at a 180 angle before racing down in a white and green fury of froth and foam.  We emerge coughing and spluttering but with all of us in the raft and our teeth intact.

As we congratulate ourselves Dave interrupts, “Well done! Today the waterfall wasn’t actually that high. All this rain means the pool was fuller than normal at the bottom”.

Never mind, the Kaituna River was still a raging torrent.  That’s what I’ll be telling people anyway.

Story by : Angela Pearse
Photos : River Rats

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